The boxing ring in a small gym off Lake Street in south Minneapolis is filled with diapers. Boxes and boxes of diapers, stacked high, free to anyone in need.
Equipment used to train boxers has been moved to a hallway to make room for canned food, cereal boxes, bottled water and toiletries. A fresh shipment of flour tortillas arrived earlier in the day. Volunteer workers scurry to fill bags to be delivered in a caravan of cars or to distribute to community members who arrive on foot.
The irony of this scene is jarring.
Here at Circle of Discipline, a 1,500-square-foot sweatbox less than a mile from the street corner where the police killed George Floyd and businesses were burned and looted, people come to learn how to box. The sport’s fundamental objective is to knock down your opponent.
The mission at Circle of Discipline last week espoused just the opposite.
The boxing gym lifted people up.
A call to serve the community has long been COD’s overarching platform. But a spontaneous outpouring of goodwill that coursed through the gym last week surprised even those who have made south Minneapolis home for decades and admit to being hardened by injustice.
We’ve all witnessed sadness and rage engulf Minneapolis. A boxing gym also revealed the city’s goodness, a display of kindness and solidarity that began with a flier posted on social media.
Adonis Frazier works at COD as a coach and program advocate. He had an idea after seeing devastation caused by the riots. He offered to use the gym’s van to drive elderly folks in senior centers to get groceries, knowing that stores were destroyed or boarded up, and also mindful that some residents likely were scared to venture outside.
Somebody misunderstood his flier and brought food to the gym. Then someone else did the same thing. And then another. Word quickly spread.
“It just started snowballing,” Frazier said.
Before long, COD resembled a grocery store. The Sheridan Story, a nonprofit that fights childhood hunger, delivered 20 pallets of food items. The Link organization in north Minneapolis and churches shared food when inventory ran low. Individual families brought food, diapers, toothpaste. A few restaurants catered to feed an army of volunteers who came to pack grocery bags and deliver them to seniors.
So many companies and people chipped in that organizers lost count. Young and old. Men and women. Black, white and myriad other ethnicities. They all felt a call to help. To do something.
By week’s end, the gym delivered more than 2,500 grocery bags of food and served hundreds more who came in person. A community shaken to its core rose and showed its heart.
“Every morning we would go out to see what damage was done,” says Sierra Samuels, the mother of pro boxer Jamal James and a longtime staff volunteer at the gym. “I was really just hopeless and depressed. This is very therapeutic. It’s been so amazing.”
Samuels took the entire week off from work to organize volunteers and keep the operation moving. She’s 49 and has lived in south Minneapolis her entire life. She loves her community.
Same with Frazier, age 43, a southside lifer. He’s proud of the response but he wants credit shared. Many emergency food banks have popped up across the metro, he notes, not just his gym. Healing requires group effort.
“People want to help right now,” he says. “They want to be part of the solution.”
His volunteer workforce included Gophers athletes Gabe Kalscheur and Benny Sapp III, who spent multiple days packing and delivering food along with Frazier’s son, Dasan, a football player at Morehouse College.
“Brothers and sisters have come together as a community and reached out to one another,” says Kalscheur, a junior guard on the Gophers basketball team. “And that’s really what a community is. Reaching out to help.”
There is a movement taking place around the world in response to Floyd’s death. An awakening to racial injustices has unified protesters in seeking change — real, fundamental change — and started a conversation that has allowed voices once muffled or ignored to be amplified.
“It took a man 8 minutes and 46 seconds of having a guy on his neck on camera for the world to finally understand this,” Frazier said.
Frazier sees hope, too. He felt it last week in a gym where he trains boxers. Donations of food and essential items, from people he knows and total strangers, kept arriving. Volunteers refused to take breaks because they wanted to make sure people had enough food and diapers for their children.
Sunday marked the final day of the gym’s food bank. Soon, the equipment will be brought back out and boxers will return to the ring to spar.
Frazier hopes the spirit he witnessed in his gym last week doesn’t recede.
“I don’t want that to wear off,” he says. “How long will people stay engaged?”